MORE ON THE COMPLEXITY OF GENOCIDAL VIOLENCE
The 1990-1994 Genocidal violence took place in a country that had been plagued by a very high rate of structural violence for much of the 20th century, at least since the 1920s. Structural violence is indirect harm imposed by a ruling elite (Belgian colonialists, Kaybanda’s regime, Habyarimana’s voracious elite in our case) on the mass population through a politically implemented socio-economic system.
«The harms may or may not be inflicted deliberately, and may occur without the clear awareness of the parties involved (…). A guerrilla in El Salvador explained the concept to an American volunteer physician this way:
You gringos are always worried about violence done with machine guns and machetes. But there is another kind of violence that you must be aware of, too. I used to work on the hacienda… My job was to take care of the dueño’s dogs. I gave them meat and bowls of milk, food that I couldn’t give my own family. When the dogs were sick, I took them to the veterinarian in Suchitot or San Salvador. When my children were sick, the dueño gave me his sympathy, but not medicine as they died. To watch your children die of sickness and hunger while you can do nothing is violence to the spirit. We have suffered that silently for too many years. Why aren’t you gringos concerned about that kind of violence? (source: Clements, 1984)» (George Kent, Structural Violence, see Bibliography).
«Notwithstanding positive macro-economic indicators, Rwanda has been characterized for decades by a high degree of structural violence; during the years prior to the genocide, this structural violence greatly intensified. This reality contrasted sharply with the dominant image of Rwanda, shared by donors and government officials alike, of a country in which development was proceeding nicely, under the capable leadership of a free-market-oriented government. Contrary to appearances, Rwanda was characterized by great inequality of both assets and income» (Peter Uvin, Development Aid and Structural Violence: The case of Rwanda, see Bibliography)
As we saw in the chapter The Immediate Background (in Rwandan Basketry 4), between the late 1980s and the beginning of the 90s, the ruling elite in Rwanda was a ‘thieving elite club’: many ministers, state employees, top administrators, and high-ranking officers among the most faithful to Habyarimana, bound to him by kinship and clannish ties, used access to preferential treatment to build profitable private businesses, while the destiny of the mass population was marked by extreme poverty, material deprivation, oppression, dramatic inequality, inequity, injustice. Clientelism, corruption, abuse of power and impunity on one side, racial and gender-based discrimination, denigration of the poorest, and social exclusion on the other. All these are forms of indirect structural violence.
«By the early 1990s, according to one analysis, 50% of Rwandans were extremely poor (incapable of feeding themselves decently), 40% were poor, 9% were non-poor and 1% – the political and business elite – were positively rich» (The Preventable Genocide, cit.). Even before the 1989-90 economic crisis and civil war, Rwanda was one of the world’s least-developed countries in Africa, and according to the United Nations Development Programme, it ranked below average of all of the sub-Saharan African countries in life expectancy, child survival, adult literacy, average years of schooling, average calorie intake, and per capita GNP.
The evolution of global commodity markets between 1985 and 1992 and the fall of the world price of coffee (Rwanda’s main export), «the arrival of the AIDS virus in the early 1980s, drought in 1984, excessive rain in 1987 and plant disease in 1988 all weighed in to contribute to declining production and food security levels. By 1989, an estimated 1 in 6 Rwandans was affected by famine (source: Pottier, 1993), 1/4 of all children was severely malnourished (World Bank, 1991), and some 50% of all children suffered from stunting (source: Uvin, 1998)» (Andy Storey, Structural violence and the struggle for state power in Rwanda, see Bibliography).
The worsening of the economic crisis and the growing mass impoverishment between the late 80s and the beginning of the 90s were accompanied by rising internal protests and growing political pressure from international aid donors and organizations. It was a potentially explosive situation for two reasons. Firstly, it questioned the absolute power of the ruling elite. Secondly, as Peter Uvin pointed out, indirect structural violence not only lowers the barriers against the use of direct violence but also «promotes explosions of acute, physical violence». Many scholars highlighted how structural violence contributes to interpersonal violence or creates conditions where interpersonal violence can happen.
How did the ruling elites respond to this socially inflammable situation and to the many risks of losing their absolute power?
We know it: they did it by using the good, old diversion political strategy.
Do you remember the pamphlet by Ngeze, entitled Appel à la conscience des Bahutu (A call to the consciousness of the Hutus) published in issue no. 6 of Kangura, dated December 1990? And what about a long article entitled Tout la vérité sur la guerre d’octobre 1990 au Rwanda [The whole truth about the October 1990 war on Rwanda] published in issue no. 114 of Nsango Ya Bisu, July 1991, and signed by Léon Mugesera? We analyzed both texts in the chapter Construction, Criminalization, Dehumanization of the Tutsis (in Rwandan Basketry 4).
In these relevant pieces of the hardliners’ campaign, the invasion of the RPF and the resulting war were brought into a historical horizon whose origins were deeply rooted in the past monarchical-feudal regime, «based on terror and on the serfdom exercised by the Tutsi minority over the Hutu majority» (Mugesera, cit.). This horizon had its cornerstones in the Bahutu Manifesto, the political program of PARMEHUTU and APROSOMA, the Social Revolution, and the Referendum of 1961 (all explicitly mentioned). In both texts, Belgian colonialism comes out of history without leaving any trace as if Belgians strolled through the country just a couple of times, and by accident. The bad guys are the Tutsi minority, and the good guys are the Hutu majority. The recent history of Rwanda from independence onwards, summed up in the triumphalist expression “30 ans de démocratie et justice sociale”, is jeopardized by the Tutsi abominable project which has its last step in the recent war on Rwanda: conquering the country, restoring their feudal-monarchical regime in a few days, and the ancient serfdom with it, exterminating all Hutus who are not ready to be enslaved.
Omar McDoom notes: «The history of Rwanda continued to be taught in terms of the Tutsi suppression of Hutu under Habyarimana’s regime (1973-1994)», as it was under the First Republic (Omar Shahabudin McDoom, Rwanda’s Ordinary Killers, 2005; see Bibliography). This ideological interpretation of the colonial past, which magically makes any responsibility of the Belgians disappear from history, is an excellent example of the diversion strategy, designed to racialize the condition of social oppression, poverty, and exclusion suffered by most Rwandans by bringing it within the Hutus vs. Tutsis scheme.
Many tiles of the ideological mosaic built by hardliners with extreme accuracy from 1990 to 1994 share the same goals with minor variations: they all racialized social tensions and exacerbated fears. It was a cynical policy entailing the radicalization of the oldest strategy used by the different ruling elites of Rwanda to maintain their grip on political and economic power.
In the 1920s, powerful bishop Classe and Belgian colonial authorities planned and implemented a complex policy of tutsification of the administration and racialization of the traditional Rwandan identities. This was a profitable strategy, able to channel social resentment and political claims into the racial horizon, getting rid of their dangerous nature of threats to the colonial power. This was the perfect diversion strategy.
Belgians knew that Rwanda could become a rentable colony only if the vast majority of people were subject to exploitation, which entailed forced labor, forced crops, humiliation, harsh physical punishments, fear, hunger, and famine: a dangerous, explosive mix. The Tutsi caste was chosen to make up «a barrier to anarchy and communism» not so much for their traditional ruling role over the mass but rather for their new identity, an identity that could give a strong ‘racial’ connotation to every kind of social resentment and anger, with a redirection effect that almost bypassed the Belgian political power and the Church.
After 1962 independence, on multiple occasions, the Hutu government not only permitted but also encouraged vengeance killings against Tutsi civilians to get remarkable political benefits: the violence against all Tutsis became part of the jingoistic rhetoric of the Kayibanda single-party regime, the main ingredient of its patriotic recipe, and one of its most effective political tools.
The Habyarimana’s regime not only continued the old use of racial identity cards but implemented apartheid measures and practiced a policy of racial discrimination by setting up a system of quotas that in theory was supposed to assure an equitable distribution of opportunities but in reality, was used to restrict the access of Tutsi to employment and higher education and increasingly discriminate against Hutu from regions other than the north (= that of Habyarimana’s family and associates).
The racial ‘card’ – from mild forms of racial segregation to mass killings of civilians – was the most effective ‘dirty weapon’ used by the Hutu oligarchy since Kayibanda times: before the Genocide, Rwanda knew no history of union struggles, labor strikes, and organized social protests. Rwanda’s trade union history up to 1994 can be told in a few lines. CESTRAR trade (Rwanda Workers’ Trade Union Confederation) is the oldest and most representative Rwandan trade union. It was founded in 1985, but it acquired its legal existence only in 1992, alongside the birth of multi-party politics, «in a situation where workers had not yet learnt the value of free and independent trade unions; the 1994 Genocide of Tutsi highlighted the precarious state of trade unionism through the loss of numerous trade union leaders and supporters, the destruction and plunder of trade union properties» (CESTRAR website). End of the story. It’s far too little, don’t you think?
Habyarimana’s ‘thieving elite club’ decided to play the ‘racial wild card’ when their firm grip on political and economic power started to wear down: the good, old, well-worked diversion strategy, elaborated by Monsignor Classe and enthusiastically approved by Belgians, seemed the right tool at the right moment, and after some dust off and spruce up, the Tutsi race was officially declared the mother of all Rwandan problems (I talked about this issue more in detail in the chapter On late 1990 to mid-1993 Genocide in Rwandan Basketry 6).
Look at the following ironic caricature, published in issue no. 16, January 1992, of the politically moderate magazine Rwanda Rushya. It depicts Hassan Ngeze, the editor-in-chief of Kangura, lying on a psychiatrist’s couch.
– I’m sick, doctor.
– What’s your illness?
– The Tutsi, Tutsi, Tutsiiiiiii…